A Social Media Style Guide for the Far Right (From a Concerned Lefty)

I don’t wade very often into the waters of political argument, and I particularly avoid politics online. I’m opinionated and sarcastic, and I am notoriously bad at letting things go, so it would be far too easy for me to get sucked into some Facebook black hole.

The next thing you know, I’m scrolling through hundreds of comments, and comments about comments, and clicking links, and posting links, and then I wake up one day and realize I never finished that book I intended to write.

Also, though I believe my opinions are well-informed, I’m not an expert on constitutional law, or gender issues, or the Civil War, or theology. Some opinions I’m sure I inherited, just like you. Some of what I believe is based on what I’ve read, or what I’ve heard, just like you.

I am a liberal, and not one of those ‘liberal on social issues but conservative on financial issues’ liberals. Stated another way, I’m probably the only one in my group of friends who thinks Bernie Sanders isn’t socialist enough.

Obviously, as a progressive, I want Big Government to use your tax dollars to pay for gigantic murals of naked gay men burning the Confederate flag. Like most liberals, I’m working to convert churches into drive-through abortion clinics.  We also plan to force your children to attend secret Muslim schools, where they will be indoctrinated about climate change and evolution.

Most of my friends on Facebook are lefties, too, but I also have friends with whom I vigorously disagree on some of the biggest issues of the day. Sometimes, when these friends pop up in my news feed, I find myself reading things of a more conservative nature. I have yet to see anything that leads me to put down my rainbow flag and join a Bible study group, but still, I try to look at both sides of most arguments.

There are some brilliant minds on the right, and I’ve read plenty of conservative pieces that, were, if not persuasive, certainly thought-provoking. I have no problems wandering around on conservative websites; the comment section is where you lose me. I don’t think I’m the only liberal who reads the comment threads attached to conservative articles for kicks. I’m sure these hyperbolic, hyperventilating commenters don’t represent conservatives as a whole, but they do make you look bad.

I don’t have any new ideas for bridging the cultural divide, but I think I can help in matters of style. I was an English major, and I was in the Debate Club in high school, so I feel qualified to offer some tips for communicating your ideas. This isn’t meant to say that, by ignoring these rules, you are stupid. However, if you type like you’re illiterate, you will seem stupid, no matter how smart your message may be.

speling. Punctu-ation!! And, grammar?

If the far right wants a chance at winning the hearts of godless, immoral, weak, traitorous liberals like myself, maybe it should start with opinions that don’t read like dialogue from a “Dukes of Hazzard”/”700 Club” crossover episode.Look, we all make typos, but when every third word is misspelled, it’s harder to take your point seriously. Especially if your point is about the benefits of homeschooling.

Speaking of points, let’s talk exclamations. Your arguments do not become more convincing when you add multiple exclamation points!!!!! Other punctuation marks matter, too. If you leave out commas, randomly throw in quotation marks and use apostrophes for no good reason, we simple-minded liberals will have more trouble understanding you.

As far as language is concerned, if you need to throw in the occasional curse word for emphasis, commit to it. Either swear or don’t, because replacing letters with random typographic symbols looks like half-@55ed 8ullsh!t. Combine that with “unnecessary” punctuation and bad spelling, and it looks like you had a small stroke while you were typing.

You might dismiss these writing rules as the creation of left-wing university elitists trying to stifle your First Amendment right to free expression. Maybe criticizing the errant placement of a comma is mere nitpicking, and the content of your opinion is what matters most.

In that case, my Maoist comrades and I have only one request: when you post a comment, WOULD YOU PLEASE STOP CAPITALIZING EVERYTHING? We get it. You’re angry. Your country is going to Hell, and you want us to wake up. The problem is, if you use ALL CAPS, you don’t seem passionate, you just seem unhinged.

It must feel very empowering to hit the ‘caps lock’ key and let that righteous rage flow. You need to realize, though, that if you EMPHASIZE EVERYTHING in your comment, we simple-minded liberals might get confused about what’s really important, and we might miss your point.

Besides, when you YELL an entire paragraph, you remind me of an angry dad in an old-timey cartoon, with bulging eyes and actual steam coming out of his ears. Old-timey cartoons make me laugh, which I don’t believe is the reaction you want.

Just the Facts

Some commenters seem nostalgic for a time in our country when you could tell people anything you heard, without any proof, and worrying about if it was, in a technical sense, true. Sadly, in the internet era, you can’t really make up things anymore. That’s because whatever screen is displaying the made-up story you shared is also connected to the internet. Which means we all now have access to information from other sources, and can do our own fact-checking.

Last week, Breitbart, one of the most popular conservative websites, had a front-page editorial which told readers “The Supreme Court abolished traditional marriage.” Now, before you call Aunt Marge and Uncle Ed to console them on the court-ordered end to their state of matrimony, you should know that is not what actually happened.

Unfortunately, when you accept a piece of fiction without looking any deeper, and then comment on it, all of your friends accept it as true, because you’re their friend—why would you lie? Then they tell their friends, and they tell their friends, and so on, and in no time, we have half the country believing that Obama has imposed Sharia Law in all fifty states.

It isn’t that the left doesn’t have our share of skewed, factually deficient propaganda rags, and I’m not begrudging either side for taking creative liberties with the truth for effect. Here’s an idea, though—how about, before commenting on something that you were told ‘happened,’ take a minute or two to find out if it actually happened.

One commenter, referring to the President’s statements after the Charleston massacre, wrote “There were no riots, lawlessness, killing of officers, burnings and lootings until Obama’s race-baiting.” Really? None of that ever happened in this country prior to 2015?

Please, people. You’re holding a smartphone while you’re commenting. Before you click ‘post,’ open a browser and do a quick search. If Google and Siri think you’re wrong, you might want to pause before posting.

Inevitably, in almost every conservative comment thread, someone will spout the following example of ‘fuzzy truth’: “All of our freedoms are being taken from us.” Forget about the fact that most of the two hundred nations on Earth would happily sign up for just one or two of the freedoms you still have left.

Instead, for perspective, try to appreciate that you live in a country where you can freely post hate-filled, ugly comments about the elected leader of the country in a public forum and not spend following thirty years in a prison camp. I think it’s a stretch to say all of your freedoms are gone, so take a minute and breathe.

Comparing Apples to Nazis

If we are going to discuss things, you need to stop comparing liberal policies to Nazi doctrine, and stop comparing anyone to Adolf Hitler. Demonizing your opponent is cliché and boring, so you lose style points there. You know as well as I that no U.S. president, no matter how liberal their agenda, has ever put in motion a policy to systematically kill millions of people, so stop the false equivalence.

If you must compare the president to someone evil, pick someone from that Bible you quote so frequently. Compare him to Herod, or Cain, or Abimelech. We will still get the idea. Oh, and while we’re talking analogies, let’s dial back the ‘last days of the Roman Empire’ talk. Unless you have a degree in history from an accredited university and can attach a bibliography, I will not be convinced that any one Supreme Court decision or executive order will turn us into Ancient Rome.

Uncommon Courtesy

Promulgating fuzzy truths is one thing, but name-calling? Both sides are guilty, but the far right seems to get a special charge out of coming up with insulting puns based on the president’s name. “Obummer.” “Nobama.” Worse still, it is not unusual to see the First Lady referred to as “Moochelle.”

Thats some smart social satire, there. This kind of juvenile crap makes you sound like the mean kids in the back of an eighth grade classroom, except that I think most eighth-graders would be bored by it. As adults, it’s flat out embarrassing. Then again, I’m just another mindless ‘libtard,’ right?

Of course, the conservative fringe would say, “If you don’t like us, get out of our country.” Ignoring the massive cognitive dissonance (whose country?), this is just more elementary school behavior (“No — you get out of OUR country!”). I know we’re a ‘young’ nation, but maybe we could act like grownups when discussing grownup things.

A few final tips …

Stop quoting Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Ann Coulter. As an exercise, try to form an argument without any reference to either of them, and without using any words or phrases you might have heard them use.

Enough with the fire-related analogies. Pastors threatening to immolate themselves, calls for America to suffer the flames of torment, suggestions that the country be burned to the ground . . . One of the most popular conservative websites is named The Blaze. If you’ll put down your torches and stop acting like the villagers in Frankenstein, we might be able to find some middle ground.

When you simply repost something that has been shared tens of thousands of times and ask people to type ‘Amen’, you are not contributing anything to the conversation. Try something called ‘critical thinking.’ It might lead to something called ‘an original idea.’

I am not implying that all conservatives are uninformed, semi-literate, childish religious zealots. I am saying that some people on the far right are all of these things, and since they have internet access, they are hurting your cause. Of course, I look forward to your comments.

Huge Science News

incandela

In a development that has rocked the world of particle physics, scientists at a hastily arranged press conference have admitted to losing the long sought-after and recently discovered ‘God particle.’ Just days after finding the mysterious subatomic particle, flustered researchers in Switzerland released a tersely worded statement about the disappearance of the bosun. Continue reading

Category: IN THE NEWS | Comments Off on Huge Science News

Is It 2016 Yet?

Our long national nightmare, otherwise known as Election 2012, is finally over. There are a few questions, though, that remain unanswered:

  • Will despondent Republicans try to form an alternate country, free of entitled moochers, under the steady leadership of Ted Nugent?
  • Will Mitt Romney re-invent himself again and try to run in 2016 as a liberal Hispanic woman?
  • Will MSNBC’s Chris Matthews finally switch to decaf?
  • Did late night comedy hosts secretly bankroll Michelle Bachmann’s winning campaign?
  • What role will Jay-Z and Springsteen play in an Obama administration?
  • What does Barack Obama owe Bill Clinton? “Now, Bill, I’ve already explained to you that I can’t create a cabinet-level Department of Young Interns.”
  • Should Fox replace all of its ‘news’ programming with MMA-style cage matches between unhinged right-wing pundits? “Watch Karl ‘Puppetmaster’ Rove battle Ann ‘The Shrew’ Coulter for the right to face Donald Trump in tonight’s ‘Extreme Championship Finger-Pointing!” Continue reading
Category: IN THE NEWS | Comments Off on Is It 2016 Yet?

book learnin’

I found a screw on the floor today. Thing is, I don’t think anything I own that’s held together by screws is missing any of its screws. So what could this mean? Is it a clue—some sort of omen? What kind of ‘Lost’-inspired sign is this? Of course, if my life were being scripted by the people who created ‘Lost,’ the clue wouldn’t be explained for six years and then it would just be  part of a fairly heavy-handed quasi-christian allegory, and it would turn out I’ve actually been dead the entire time.

I like to believe that if there were a rip in the cosmological fabric, Alternate Me would be more successful, and be having more sex. You know, a world in which the most admired and highly-paid profession is ‘comedy writer.’ In that world, cops would come to your door to give you pot, and the Oscars would have a category for Best Barely Started Screenplay Idea. And I would fly into the Kodak Theater with my jet-pack to receive my award.

The idea of an alternate universe has always fascinated me. A place that looks like our world but because of some glitch in the time-space continuum is actually a frightening bizarro world filled with people who sort of look like us but ultimately are discovered to be aliens bent on our destruction. For example, Texas.

If I understand this, the Texas Board of Education approved changes to the social studies and history curriculae (-li? –lums? damn, I hate when I forget my Latin declensions!). Anyhoo, that means changes to textbooks in Texas, which means changes to textbooks everywhere because Texas buys a lot of textbooks.

I suppose the changes are meant to bring about a nostalgic return to an era uncluttered by voting rights, or religious rights, or civil rights. Whatever the motivation, the new curriculum will put a distinctly rightward spin on what used to be called ‘facts.’

Apparently the new guidelines require that students be taught that the Founding Fathers were actually very religious, and that the whole church and state thing was meant to be a just a trial separation. I’m guessing the people who voted for these changes also believe that fossil evidence for evolution was manufactured by the liberal media to lead the country down the path to socialized…archaeology, or something.

Although I’m a card-carrying liberal (it’s actually an NPR membership card, but it counts as ID in Arizona), I’m not all that concerned about what ninth-graders in Texas are studying. It’s not that I don’t care about what they read…it’s that I don’t believe many of them will actually remember what they read.

For example—the new textbooks will now imply that free-market economies are better for society than…whatever other kinds of economies there are. See, my point is, I don’t remember, because I learned that stuff from a textbook—meaning, the information stayed in my brain until the test was over. Then—poof! It was as if I never learned it.

I think for most people, what we learned as kids simply served as a placeholders until we learned important things, like things related to our jobs, and how to get laid. I took calculus in high school, and I don’t even remember what calculus is, let alone how to use it.

So I’m not too worried about the next generation being manipulated by their textbooks. I’ve always said that if you want kids to read Shakespeare, ban everything he wrote. Seriously, if high school kids aren’t allowed to read ‘Hamlet,’ they’ll be quoting Polonius in the hallway.

A school in Tennessee actually banned some textbooks a while back. Called them ‘anti-religious.’ And again, I don’t get the problem. You could put a whole section on Satanic rituals in ‘America: Pathways to the Present’ and if it isn’t mentioned in the chapter summary, most students will never see it!

You know, if school boards are gonna revise the curriculum, they should have the balls to go all the way. Why not make history books entirely fictional? Include chapters explaining how the South didn’t lose the Civil War, it’s just laying low and regrouping. Have kids learn that the Underground Railroad was a just another leftist public transit boondoggle. And for god’s sake, bring back home economics classes. Just for girls, of course. They need to have role models, too.

But if high school kids in Texas are required to learn this more…creative version of our history, one more change needs to be mandated. The federal government should require diplomas issued by Texas to have a big Texas-sized asterisk on them so that the rest of us know who we’re dealing with.

Category: IN THE NEWS | Comments Off on book learnin’

fill ‘er up

So, after this Chilean earthquake, I’m browsing around the web looking for fodder, and the headline at MSNBC says “Pope To Pray For Chile.” Now, I think it’s great for Benedict to take a break from repressing women and spreading misinformation about AIDS, my problem is that it was a headline. As if it were…news.

Obviously the Pope is going to pray for Chile, given the fact that he is…leader of the Catholic Church and Chile is predominantly…Catholic. It’s his job fer chirssake—literally! News would be a headline saying “Pope Snubs Chile—Opts to Not Include Victims In Prayers.”

Edward R. Murrow would spin in his grave–while smoking a cigarette–if he were to see what passes for journalism today. In any given half-hour tv news broadcast, I would say an average of 86.3% of the stories aren’t really news. News should have two ingredients—it should be new, and it should be sorta…important, and to more people than just someone’s immediate family.

 

The problem of course, is filling the half-hour, or filling up the web page. With three major online news portals and a gazillion ‘aggregators’ (‘we don’t investigate the stories, but we do group ‘em all together for you!”), not enough actual news happens to satisfy them, hence—filler news. We wouldn’t tolerate this in a restaurant—“The chef only has a half portion of the chicken marsala left, so we’re going to fill the rest of your plate some microwave popcorn.”

News filler usually consists of ‘human interest’ stories. Which begs the question—what type of beings are the other stories aimed at? Is there a section of ‘panda interest stories’? In theory, shouldn’t every news story be of interest to…humans?

And for the love of Cronkite, stop interviewing family members of people who have died! It’s not news!

“I know this is a difficult time for you…with your entire family having been killed in the blaze that destroyed your ancestral home, what are you feeling right now?”

“I’m very sad.”

“We’ve got a scoop! Rush this footage to editing!”

They should give anti-journalism awards, like the Razzies they give for worst movies. They could call it the Mister Peabody.

Used to be, tv news was fifteen minutes. Now, there are fifteen minutes of graphics before a breaking news story. Sure, the times were simpler, but the times were also filled with fewer Octomoms. Oh, Octomoms might have existed back then, but we didn’t feel they warranted above-the-fold reporting.

 

I get my headlines online from MSNBC, because yes, one of my goals has always been to destroy the newspaper industry and eliminate the jobs of hardworking print journalists. Now, since MSNBC is a “joint venture of Microsoft and NBC,” you’d think there would be someone at one of those giant companies who would notice this stupid shit.

 

But no, at one point last year the headline on their home page was “Osama Still Not Found.” This just in—nothing! That’s not news! It’s—anti-news! It’s bad enough to print ‘news’ about something trivial that happened, but now you’re putting up a story about something that hasn’t happened!

 

This week in the news we learned that the earthquake in Chile shifted Earth’s axis. Every report about this quoted ‘NASA scientists,’ which I suppose would be more reliable than ‘NASA janitors.’ Anyway, as a result, every day will be shorter by 1.26 milliseconds, which sucks, because I’m really busy at the moment and cannot afford to lose that kind of time.

There was one ‘human interest’ story this week that genuinely touched me. Seems the woman who wrote the first book about crockpot cookery (a bestseller in 1975, in part due to its compelling title, ‘Crockpot Cookery’), died at the age of 88. Mable Hoffman was interred in a late-morning ceremony. Onions, potatoes and chopped bell peppers were added a couple hours later, and she was ready by late afternoon. Thanks—you’ve been a great crowd! Tip your waitresses! Good night!

9.11.01–a comedian’s take

It was a couple of weeks after my friend Kevin had called me and said “Turn on the TV—we’re under attack.” Now, I’m not a morning person, so my first instinct was to hang up. But then I started to assemble the words into some sort of sense—we’re…under…attack.

I then spent the better part of the day staring at my laptop. I was so overwhelmed, I’m not even sure I felt sad for the first hour or so. There wasn’t any room in my skull for sad. My head was too busy saying “what the fuck” on some sort of endless tape loop for it to admit any other feelings. I watched footage of the second plane (and that was really the one that scared us, because the first one, we all prayed, was just a freak accident)…

I watched that footage hundreds of times on September 11th. I realize now that I kept watching it to numb myself to it. Maybe if I watched it enough, I would be able to process it –react to it—and then put it in a box and on a shelf with other things I just watched on TV. (By the way, at this point, I’m sure you’re wondering, “When does the comedy start? I mean, the guy calls himself ‘Mister Comedy,’ fer chrissake.” )

Listen, I was three when JFK was shot. I was eight when we lost Dr. King. I only vaguely remember shots of balconies and hooded gunmen in Munich in 1972. But this. I knew when the second plane hit that this would be the defining moment of my generation. I think if your country is attacked when you’re twenty…well, you’re invincible when your twenty. But I think when your country’s attacked and you’re forty-one, you have more of a feeling of…ownership of the place.

I realized that from March 30, 1960 through September 10th, 2001, I had not felt patriotism. I had, to be sure, recited the Pledge of Allegiance, sung the National Anthem, and even, in fourth grade, constructed a map of the United States out of salt dough. But until about 9:15 on that morning, I didn’t really feel like I was a part of an ‘us.’

That’s also when I truly fell in love with New York. When I saw news reports of New Yorkers lining up for miles to donate blood, I wanted to move there. I’m from earthquake country, and went through the Northridge quake in ’92, and I don’t remember anything like the sense of community I witnessed from three thousand miles away. (I’m not saying that all Angelenos are selfish, craven, career-driven barnacles on an apocalyptic ship…I’m just sayin’…)

So…I wrote this piece about two weeks after the towers fell, and I think it’s a fair representation of what comedians dealt with in the aftermath of 9/11.


Everyone who works as a comedian (admittedly an oxymoron to begin with) had the same thought on September 11th–“I’m gonna have to get a real job–nothing’s ever going to be funny again!!!”

So here’s the deal. Humor is healing. It is what we do when we can’t wrap our brains around really bad things. It’s a wonderful form of collective denial that’s been around since the first really bad thing happened. Though there are no records of this, I’m pretty sure that there were people doing Pompeii jokes after the volcano hit (“Hey gang–real estate tip–next time you buy property, remember these four words–IS THE VOLCANO ACTIVE?”

It’s like that Star  Trek episode where the scary alien energy presence thingie was eventually defeated because the crew of the Enterprise laughed at it. OK, it’s not a lot like that, but you get my point. Or maybe you don’t.

Anyway, the bottom line is, I don’t know any comic who thinks three thousand dead people is funny. But for those of us still here, we have to joke–because if we tried to understand the level of evil we’re talking about here, our heads would explode.

As much of a lefty as I am, I actually feel sorry for George W. (In my defense, at the time I didn’t realize he would lead us into a misguided war as the puppet of some truly evil motherfuckers–I just thought he was stupid.) I mean, he just got the job–hell, he’s probably still figuring out where all the bathrooms are. “Hey–I wonder where this leads…” “Uh, Mr. President, you have a briefing in an hour…Mr. President? Oh shit–would somebody please find W. and point him toward the press room?”

The most telling video clip is the one where Bush was in a classroom being told about the attack. Rule of thumb: any time a guy in a dark suit whispers to the President of the United States, something bad has happened. And thank God the smirk is gone. W. hasn’t smirked since September 11th. Smirking is, I think, a bad thing for a president to do. Credibility-wise.

Saddam Hussein offered to help the United States–if we asked. OK, guy–let’s assume we, as a nation, forgot about the whole accessory-to-terrorism,  biological-warfare-capable, burning-our-presidents-in-effigy-because-we’re–the-Great-Satan thing. How exactly, could you help us? “Mr. President, Hussein sent that shipment of rocks and sand we need…”(Again–my bad. I was naive and bought into the whole ‘biological-weapons-capable’ deal.)

I’m uncomfortable with the fact that, judging by who I saw on the street that night,  the largest number of American flags seem to have been purchased by a group I call ‘tattoo patriots’–and I’m not sure I feel safe with a front line of rednecks and trailer trash defending me. I mean, I just don’t like it that the most vocal people seem to be the type of guys that think  “Hell, me and a couple of buddies ought to just go over there and kick some ass.” It just doesn’t seem the time for rational dialogue right now…

But once again, the true heroes in this national crisis have been the rock stars who, instead of giving some of their gazillions of dollars to the victims of the attack, chose to–sing. But the thing about September 11th that made it unique amongst the challenges we’ve faced, it that nobody knew how they were supposed to react.

The most unfortunate choice of words in the first two weeks–the announcer for a New York Mets I watched who, after a game-winning home run, said “Shea Stadium has just exploded!”. Imagine some poor working-stiff bastard, just wants to hear a little of the ball game, take his mind off the tragedy, and right when he turns on the radio he hears that.

Actually,  think we should all cut Bush a little slack (in retrospect, I take that line back). I’m serious–we’ve all gotten a new job and then a couple months in realized we’re not quite sure we can handle it–you know, they train you at Starbucks and then all of a sudden they start selling some new kind of coffee, and there’s a huge line, and you’re not sure what button to push on the register, and you panic, and the assistant manager tells you don’t worry, just go clean the tables.

Which is sort of what W. probably went through— “Um…guys…nobody told  me what to do if the bad guys CRASH OUR PLANES INTO OUR BUILDINGS!!!” He’s frantically flipping through The Presidency for Dummies–meanwhile I imagine Cheney being a total jerk– “OK ,Mr. President–you need to call the president of   Pakistan—–and his name would be…?” “C’mon Dick–stop messin’ with me–it’s–I know it starts with an M…”

Category: IN THE NEWS | Comments Off on 9.11.01–a comedian’s take